Before working on the Proof of Words foundry project with Léo, I had never given Licensing much thought. Why would I? During my studies, I knew that you had to buy the Fonts if you wanted to use them, it seemed logical. But I had never thought about it in depth, and it’s not something you hear much about in school.
After graduating, I did internships and freelance work for several foundries, but the question never came up either, as they already had established practices. My role was to design and develop typefaces rather than to think about the Licensing system.
Upon selling my first typeface, I faced this question when the type distributor asked me to provide her with a Licensing document. I was caught off guard… I first contacted a type designer friend, who was more experienced than me, to find out if there were any templates or guides for writing such documents. I wanted to know how to approach this and what should be covered by the License. He simply replied that there were no templates, everyone did as they pleased, and I could put whatever I wanted in my License text. That was a broad response. I must admit that I was completely lost at the time and that his answer didn’t give me further guidance. It almost worried me more because he added that it was a document with legal value and that I had to be careful when writing it. At that time, the Licensing issue seemed to me to be a complex subject. It still is now!
To finish, I had to dabble with a draft text, which was undoubtedly incomplete but had the advantage of existing and bringing the question onto the stage. It was a first attempt. The problem quickly subsided because the distributor decided to unify all the Licenses and End-User Licenses Agreements available on the website a few months later.
For this first exercise, I collected End-User License Agreements and Licenses from several foundries, and I noticed differences, sometimes subtle, sometimes radically opposed, between each. At this point, I realised that the End-User Licenses Agreement and the Licenses were not the same documents but were closely intertwined. These documents reflect a foundry’s philosophies and views on how to govern the use of their characters.
Proof of Words
The launch of Proof of Words was an opportunity to think about this question and define our philosophy. Our common way of investigating and questioning established practices drew us to team up to start Proof of Words.
Unlike during my first experience, we are quite lucky to arrive at a time when some of the major players in the type industry are questioning the “established” system to find fresh approaches that make Eula and Licensing more accessible. Our decisions have been fuelled by already settled changes in other type foundries in recent years. We have chosen to follow these developments and continue to engage with them. This article is an opportunity to clarify our thoughts and to inform our choices on these matters.
Simplicity was one of the first principles that was dear to us. Of course, we are not the only ones wanting that. All foundries wish to have a simple Licensing system. Nobody wants to confuse its customers by offering a complex purchasing process. So how come type foundries ended up with so many different systems and ways of measuring?
From what I have noticed, restrictive established conventions are a first factor. Old habits are hard to change. For a while, foundries often took over an existing system. They adapted it to their offer, thus maintaining a global model without changing its essence or making it drastically evolve. These marginal arrangements (such as adding a new type of License, adjusting metrics, varying from “computer-based” to “user-based” metrics) spanning several decades and continents only add up, creating subtle variations but never questioning the core of the Licensing system or its scope.
At Proof of Words, we took note of the entangled patterns and pursued a different direction. Launching now allows us to take the learnings of others who have lit a path that we feel is fair and adjust it to what we felt reasonable. We browsed many foundries’ websites and studied their purchasing and Licensing processes. This detailed review was very useful in helping us find where we are standing and what we aim to fulfil.
License Owner and License Metrics
We have very quickly chosen to use the License Owner principle inspired by Dinamo11 Even if they are not the only ones to have this principle of License Owner and unique Metric, they are the ones who talk about it the most and who, in my opinion, have led people to think about the question and who have given the most support to this choice., which is well documented in their article on their Licensing principles. As the person or entity that commissions the project will benefit from the typeface used and derive value from it, it seems logical that it should be the License Owner. Tightly linked to this attribution, the price is defined by the number of employees of the License Owner’s company.
These two principles already simplify the Licensing process a lot. Indeed, most foundries have different measures for each License they offer: the number of workstations or users for Desktop Licenses, the number of unique views or visits per month for Web Licenses, the number of applications or downloads for App Licenses… This seemed to us to be a lot of parameters to calculate and, mainly, a lot of evolving metrics that are difficult to evaluate. How can we estimate the traffic on a website in advance, and what can we do if the traffic increases? Because of that, we chose the License Owner’s company’s size as the only measurement to calculate for the License. As explained by Dinamo, this basic unit is more straightforward and fairer. It doesn’t seem fair to us that a freelance designer should pay the same price for its License as a company with 100 employees that installed the Font on only one computer because their income is not the same, and neither are their benefits from the Font.
Once we defined our system, we set the base price of our Licenses. We made many comparisons until we settled on our current price of 60€ for the first metric step. However, while refining our pricing model, we noticed another loophole that caught our attention, allowing us to establish another milestone of our Licensing system.
Most of the time, we noticed that the Web License was linked to a domain name at the time of the purchase. And therefore, it could only be used on a single website or project. This License is often more expensive than the Desktop one. But the Desktop License is not linked to a specific project or design and can be used freely as long as it remains on the customer’s computer. A Desktop License, purchased once, can be used to design an unlimited number of projects, but a Web License can only cover one domain name and is more expensive to buy. That did not make sense to us. Accordingly, we put both Desktop and Web Licenses at the same price.
Taking this thought further, we have chosen to apply the Web License principle to all our Licenses. This is one of the most essential features of our Licensing system at Proof of Words. We have chosen to license our Fonts within the project, meaning that the License you buy covers a specific project. When purchasing a License from us, you will have to specify the project for which the License will be used. This seems fairer to the foundry, and moreover, it is in line with the License Owner principle, who pays designers for each new project and, therefore, the materials to create that project too. Suppose designers purchase a typeface for their own visual identity. In that case, it doesn’t change anything for them. But if they work on a project for a client that uses this same typeface, they don’t have to license it (again), but their client does. We understand the word “project” broadly, and it is not necessarily a time-bound notion. This way of Licensing tied to a project may seem peculiar at first glance, but it allows us to develop the idea of Working Group.
Working Group is a term we defined within Proof of Words. This concept is very important to us as we believe it justifies Licensing tied to a project and greatly simplifies the workflow with the Fonts and their circulation. The Working Group comprises all the people working on the specified project. Once you have chosen the proper Licenses (Desktop, Web, Social…), defined the number of employees and filled in the project, you don’t have to worry about anything anymore. Everyone is covered. Everyone! No need to buy other Licenses covering a subcontractor, third party, developer or intern (anyway, I’m not sure many people did. Honestly, who ever really purchased an additional License to cover their intern?). Once you buy a typeface, you don’t think about it anymore, and most of the time, you don’t even remember that you need to upgrade it at some point. Once you’ve bought it, you don’t want to worry about it.
That’s why we license within a project, to worry about these metrics only for a given project, at a given time, not if the company is growing or needs to know how many people will work on the project in question. You only need to ask the questions once for each project. This is our way of simplifying things.
Demo and piracy
Our desire to simplify things is also reflected in our Demo Licenses. Unlike the limited Trials, we have included all characters in these files. Our Demo Licenses are limited for evaluation and testing purposes, but we didn’t want to restrict users, especially non-English speakers who can’t really test Fonts without diacritics. I remember an Icelandic designer complaining on Twitter that the /eth was missing from the Trials he downloaded and that the file was therefore useless, the text being sprinkled with .notdef… This is understandable and quite unfair to non-English speakers. We want users and designers to be able to test our Fonts fully and completely. We wish to make them want to use our Fonts, not restrict them.
The choice to have all the characters and kerning is also essential to us for another reason. Some graphic or web designers sometimes do all the layout or development with Trial files and only buy the correct License in the middle or at the end of the project. Imagine if they have to redo the whole layout because glyphs are missing or redo all their justification adjustments because the kerning was wrong. And we think it’s important to have all the glyphs. You don’t buy a Font just for the alphabet but also for the Stylistic Sets or other non-alphabetic glyphs, which you must be able to test beforehand.
Some may not understand our point of view and may say that we are too trusting of our users and that it is risky because of piracy. This is a big concern in many foundries and in the typography world, and rightly so. But we are aware that, over time, we will not be able to prevent the fact that our Fonts will likely circulate and be pirated, no matter how hard we try. We have (or are trying to) quit worrying about Font piracy because we cannot stop it. No one does. We rather invest our energy in things we can control like drawing type. The truth is, in most cases, people who use a pirated Font would not have bought it anyway. So fighting piracy is not about finding new customers for a foundry of our size. Of course, we will not encourage this and will take action if it happens, but we cannot fight or prevent everything, and we are aware of this.
We were talking about this with a friend of ours, who gave us an amusing analogy:
It reminds me a lot of the discussions that are going on about the broadcasting of Ligue 1 and sports in general. On the one hand, you have the NBA, which doesn’t fight against piracy, doesn’t care about the GIFs and excerpts that circulate on socials, and offers a package that is financially adapted to the different uses. The result is a huge visibility and an exponential increase in viewer loyalty. On the other hand, you have Ligue 1, which spends its time fighting against piracy, against sharing its images on the networks, with a unique and unsuitable offer. The result is a 50% drop in spectators in 10 years and a growing lack of interest in the competition. You don’t win by fighting a problem bigger than yourself. You win by adapting your offer accordingly. Thinking that people who pirate will buy if you ‘stop’ piracy is nonsense.
Obviously, we’re not comparing ourselves to the NBA and not saying that we want to be paid in visibility, but fighting these discrepancies at all costs is not part of our philosophy.
Maybe we haven’t managed to be the simplest. Still, we want to accommodate every step of the Licensing process when buying, state things simply, and explain clearly our principle of project Licensing and our notion of a Working Group.
It feels right to do it this way. We will see how our foundry evolves and whether we need to readjust our position on these questions over time. It is by doing and practicing that we will get a clearer picture.